Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ineffective Forever

This old piece of reformster wisdom has been popping up again in the wake of Vergara.

I've explained this before, but let me lay out for you once again how the new interpretation of "ineffective" or "low-performing" guarantees that there will always be an endless supply of ineffective teachers.

The new definition of "ineffective teacher" is "teacher whose students score poorly on test."

Add to that the assumption that a student only scores low on a test because of the student had an ineffective teacher.

You have now created a perfect circular definition. And the beauty of this is that in order to generate the statistics tossed around in the poster above, you don't even have to evaluate teachers!

At Rich White Kid Academy, 50 out of 1000 students scored Below Basic on The Big Test. At Poor Brown Kid High, 100 out of 1000 scored Below Basic. Because the only admitted explanation for a Below Basic score is ineffective teaching, the only reason PBKH could have twice as many failing scores is because they have twice as many ineffective teachers! Voila! See how easy it is??

Look, I don't know what methodology these guys used. It's entirely possible that they inserted the extra step of doing actual teacher evaluations. It doesn't matter. As long as you don't consider the possibility that low-income students do poorly on standardized tests because they go to schools with chaotic administrations, high staff turnover, crumbling facilities, lack of resources, dangerous neighborhoods, and backgrounds that do not fit them for culturally-biased standardized tests-- as long as you don't consider any of that, one thing remains certain--

Low-income students will always be taught by ineffective low-performing teachers.

If you define "bad teacher" as "whoever is standing in front of these low-testing students," it doesn't matter who stands there. Whoever it is, he's ineffective.

It is like concluding that the people running up the side of the mountain are slower runners than the people running down the mountain. It is like concluding that people who stand outside in the rain are worse at keeping their clothes dry than inside-standers. It is like concluding that people who are standing in ten-foot holes have poorer distance vision than people who are standing on ladders.

You can have people trade places all day-- you will always find roughly the same distribution of slow/fast, wet/dry. good/bad vision.

It is literally--literally-- like drawing an X on a classroom floor and saying, "Any teacher who stands here is an ineffective teacher."

How do reformsters think this approach will affect their stated plan of putting a great teacher in front of those low-income students? How many teachers (or TFA temp bodies) do they plan to run through that meat grinder before they admit that other factors might be in play? And how do they plan to recruit teachers to stand on that big X, to volunteer for an "ineffective" rating?

So am I saying the poverty and chaos and crumbling building and all the rest is an excuse?

I am not. In fact, once we realize it's not an excuse, we can start to see that for those schools, the situation is actually worse than what I've described so far.

Because that allegedly ineffective teacher may be, by virtue of connecting with students and hard work and love and, yes, even grit, may be accomplishing great things in the face of tremendous odds-- just not super-duper standardized test scores.

Because I've talked so far about all these people as if they are easily interchangeable when in fact they are not. A teacher who is awesomely effective in one school setting might be meh in another. That teacher you've rated "ineffective" because of test scores might, in fact, be the most awesomely perfect person for the job. They might have accomplished great things in spite of the chaos and crumbling and underfunding and lack of admin support and resources, and if you had just fixed any of those things, that teacher would have accomplished miracles for you. But instead you want to fire her and replace her with someone who may have no idea how to face the specific challenges of that classroom.

In other words, by focusing on a bogus definition of effectiveness, you actually have no idea of which teachers are great for a particular classroom. It's not just that the reformster definition of effective is unjust and unfair; its innate wrongness will actively thwart any attempts to make anything better. It's almost-- almost-- as if reformsters actually want public schools to fail.


  1. If Socrates, Buddha, or Confucious taught in the hood, they'd be deemed inefffective.

  2. Seems Peter Greene is engaging in the same logic he decries in his blog. He assumes all teachers (or the vast majority) are "effective" by merely standing on said X. There are under-performers in every profession. Why should it be different with teachers? That shouldn't be an insult to the important profession that education is. Teachers I know want greater accountability within the profession, more reviews, higher standards. They want to weed out the bad apples. If the unions policed their own members, and thinned their ranks of the worst of the worst, we would be having a different conversation. Let's raise the bar for minimum performance; that will be the best way to reward, compensate and encourage excellence among our teachers.

    1. Not sure where you got the notion that I believe all teachers are effective. But if your goal is to find the ineffective ones, wouldn't you prefer to use a system that actually does so, rather than a system that punishes any teacher who has the misfortune to find himself in the low-performing classroom? I agree that teachers want to get rid of the bad apples, but what in the currently proposed systems actually does that? I'm going to go with nothing.

      Setting a bar in a meaningful way to meet useful standards would be a fine thing (and we already have lots of well-paid administrators in place to do that). But what is being repeatedly proposed is not raising the bar, but simply swinging it around blindly and with every random hit hollering out, "Look! There's another bad teacher." That does not reward, compensate, nor encourage anybody.

  3. I'm sorry but where you say "teacher who has the misfortune to find himself in the low-performing classroom" are you not perpetuating quite a considerable inequity issue in education? We should be highlighting the rich/rewarding opportunities and encouraging teachers to tackle challenges rather than perceiving these schools as a 'punishment'.
    Out of professional interest, do you have a particular set of professional standards in mind that helps set the bar? Are these set by the system, the state, the department?

    1. My point is that as long as we use a messed-up test-based teacher evaluation, being put in those low performing classrooms will be a punishment. There are certainly rich rewarding challenges to be had in those classrooms, but if the evaluation system for the teacher is pre-occupied with test results, the rest won't matter-- the teacher will be low-rated, and in places, out of a job.

      I have no particular set of standards in mind, though I have laid out my own proposal for how to do teacher evaluation elsewhere on the blog--